Happy End

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Michael Haneke’s compelling and provocative new film, Happy End.

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A biting satire on bourgeois family values set in the shadow of the European refugee crisis is how you could describe Michael Haneke’s latest film Happy End (ICA and Curzon cinemas).

When her mother falls ill under mysterious circumstances 13-year-old Eve (Fantine Harduin) is sent to live with her estranged father, Thomas’s (Mathieu Kassovitz) relatives in Calais. The Laurent family, comprising Anne (Isabelle Huppert). Thomas, her doctor brother, Pierre, her disillusioned son and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), her embittered father, are wealthy, neurotic and self-obsessed, own a lucrative construction company and live in a sprawling mansion house, waited on by servants. But trouble is brewing – an accident occurs at one of the family-owned building sites, and a series of inter-generational back-stabbings threaten to tear the family apart. Meanwhile distracted by infidelities and betrayals, they fail to notice that the new arrival has a sinister secret of her own.

This dark sardonic, yet quietly compassionate picture of a contemporary life as experienced by complacently well-off European contains all of Haneke’s classic themes and visual ideas: family dysfunction, inter-generational revenge, racial tensions and the poisonous suppression of quilt. His trademark preoccupation with surveillance and video recording is also in evidence, as technologically unsparing reproaches to what we choose not to see in our own behaviour. There is also some unexpected absurdist humour – at one point Georges dryly suggests that his hairdresser supply him with a pistol to kill himself. adding "a shotgun would work too." A few scenes towards the end represent Haneke at his best most notably a lavish family lunch which is invaded by illegal African immigrants who have all been invited by Pierre to create havoc.

Performances by the top class cast are impeccable all round, in particular, Isabelle Huppert as the matriarch of the family and the architect perhaps of her troubled son’s mental health issues and veteran actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ageing patriarch, keen to depart this world.

This, then, is compelling, provocative cinema that’s proof-if we ever needed it – that Haneke remains one of modern cinema’s true visionaries.

Happy End

Released nationwide 22 December 2017

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